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On the Verge at 81: Leo “Bud” Welch

Brian Robbins | May 16, 2014

Ask bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch why he waited until the age of 81 to record his first album and he won’t hesitate with his answer: “You need somebody to help you with things like that, and I never had nobody until now.” Which, in a way, makes Welch’s manager Vencie Varnado—he’s only in his 50s—the hero of this story. Varnado says that although he’s known Welch his entire life, he’d never heard him play guitar and sing until recently. A phone call to local indie label Big Legal Mess was almost thwarted by an unknowing intern who told Varnado and Welch, “We really don’t do blues here anymore,” but luckily, label owner Bruce Watson intercepted the call. Intrigued by Welch’s story, Watson invited him to come by with his guitar, and the visit led to the sessions for Welch’s debut album, Sabougla Voices, which includes 10 tracks of real-as-real-gets footstomping Hill Country gospel and blues. Welch—who has spent his lifetime working on farms and logging—mostly played in the local churches for years. But he’s ready for this new musical chapter of his life. “I still get around good,” he says. “I don’t walk with no stick or nothin’. I still get up and dance when it moves me.”